The Downfall of Rangers Part 3
Now that the vote against a Rangers newco being admitted into the SPL next season is a formality John Hislop looks at the implications for the remaining clubs.
There is no doubt that this is a problem many SPL chairmen could have done without. A successful Rangers bring a healthy support at least once per season, and sometimes twice, whilst the Sky TV deal which plays a significant in most teams overall budget is dependent on four competitive old firm clashes every year. Without these two sources of income, many pundits predicted that clubs would go to the wall. On the other hand, their own supporters have withheld renewing season tickets and are threatening boycotts should Rangers punishment be deemed insufficient.
Hibs supporters at least are confident that their club will prosper without Rangers, and the possible revenue loss will be made up by cost cutting, an unexpected transfer bonus and additional pay at the gate fans should they start well.
Hibs have sold in the region of 7,000 season tickets for the coming season at an average cost of £228, bringing in an income of just under £1.6m. This number is down from last year after 2000 fans failed to renew. Some new fans bought season tickets to ensure that they were able to attend the cup final, but this number has not made up for the deficit.
With only one home game this term against Celtic, unless Pat Fenlon can win a place in the top six, the board would normally expect at least two home fixtures against Rangers.
When either half of the old firm visit Easter Road, the away end which holds 3800 is normally sold out. With tickets costing £28 each, these games bring in over £100k in revenue.
Whoever replaces Rangers will probably bring less than a quarter of that number, with tickets costing £22, bringing in only £20k, a shortfall over the season of £160k. Take stewarding and policing costs into account and a figure of £150 is more realistic.
Whilst this is undoubtedly a lot of money, director Fife Hyland has left the club saving a reported £80k, and Hibs have received £70k following a sell on clause for defender Sol Bamba who joined Turkish side Trabzonspor from Leicester City, covering the cost totally..
The Sky money is paid based on the final position of each team at the end of the season, rather than on the number of times they appear. Last year, Hibs were third, behind the old firm in the number of times they appeared on television, yet they received the second lowest payment due to their 11th place finish. The changes in kick off times also mean less home supporters attending, again dropping the revenue. Last season’s payment was believed to be under £1m.
The satellite broadcaster which, together with ESPN, is three years into a £65million five-year deal, with an improved £80m five-year deal, to supersede the existing agreement, which remains unsigned and, barring a remarkable turn of events, looks likely to remain so.
Sky however has claimed that they will continue to support Scottish football, which could include a separate agreement to screen Rangers games in a lower division.
The jewel in the crown for Sky and ESPN is the four old firm games, and without that guarantee, at the very least, the broadcasters will be looking to negotiate, meaning less money being available.
In an effort to combat this, discussions are also on-going regarding a two legged Glasgow Cup final which would allow two competitive old firm fixtures with the possibility for up to three more, depending on League and Scottish Cup draws.
If the payment criteria remain the same, a top six place would make up any difference to the budget, so the pressure is on Pat Fenlon to deliver a team capable of finishing in the top six and also playing a brand of football which attracts more pay at the gate supporters.
Despite the projected drop in finance however, Hibs fans are united in their determination to see an SPL without a Rangers representative. Polls on the fan’s forum websites, Hibs Net and Hibees Bounce revealed that over 99% of fans wanted Rod Petrie to vote no. This figure is replicated on other club’s sites.
It’s not all doom and gloom at Easter Road however, as fans point out that a winning Hibs team playing attractive football would attract a sizeable increase in the average attendance which would more than cover any losses.
When the club played in the first division, after being relegated in 1998, more Hibs fans attended the games that they did last season, with more that fourteen thousand against Raith Rovers and Falkirk over the festive period. The cup final proved that the fans are there of the product is right, and now could be the time for Hibs to regain their place at the top end of the SPL.
Some other clubs are not so fortunate and without the Rangers income, there is a real possibility that they could go the wall. Motherwell, who have agreed to allow their supporters to vote have issued a statement suggesting that administration is a possibility whichever way the vote goes. In a guidance document sent to fans, the club stated: “”The board is of the view that whatever decision is made on the newco vote by the SPL clubs, the financial position of Motherwell Football Club will suffer. On a purely financial basis, a ‘Yes’ vote would likely preserve commercial revenues, however the impact on gate receipts is unclear.
“The risks presented by a ‘No’ vote are slightly easier to quantify insofar as gate receipts are concerned, but even then are extremely uncertain given we do not yet know what the SPL commercial partners will decide. There are clear risks to the financial stability and very future of this club presented by the current situation.”
This also applies to Kilmarnock, whose chairman Michael Johnson initially indicated that he would vote for the newco purely for financial reasons; however he has now also agreed to consult the fans and take their feelings into consideration.
St Johnstone also confirmed they will pay a financial penalty but insisted they were left with no moral alternative. A club statement read: “The economic climate has made it extremely difficult for anyone involved in football and any reduction in income will have a serious impact on this football club, but the board believes that sporting integrity should not be sacrificed in favour of economic expediency.”
At the moment, the media are reporting that the governing bodies have verbally agreed to allow a newco Rangers into the First Division next season; however certain SFL clubs have already registered their protest.
Falkirk chairman Martin Ritchie issued a statement opposing a Rangers newco: “The board at Falkirk FC strongly believe the current turmoil should be a catalyst for change in Scottish football. League reconstruction, First Division play-offs, a fairer distribution of the game’s wealth and the ending of undemocratic voting systems should be the minimal levels of change. It would be totally unacceptable if a Rangers newco were admitted to the First Division on the current rules. Even a weakened Rangers newco would have resources that far outstripped all the other First Division clubs and this would pretty much guarantee them promotion before the season even starts.”
A statement from Raith Rovers’ board read: “Raith Rovers FC continues to closely monitor developments in the saga of who will replace the liquidated Rangers within Scottish football. As proud members of the Scottish Football League, we may soon be called upon to consider proposals for the way forward not only in relation to any vacancy that may arise in our league but also in respect of the future construction of the game in Scotland. Whilst we retain an open mind on the subject of league reconstruction, and will carefully consider any proposal put to us by the SFL board in this regard, the board of directors of Raith Rovers FC is unanimous in its view that we shall certainly not cast our vote in favour of any integrated plan that in our view compromises sporting integrity by involving the admission of any ‘Newco’ directly into Division One.”
Meanwhile there was more bad news for Charles Green when Steve David and Alan McGregor joined Steven Whittaker and Steven Naismith by refusing to sign for the newco, leaving only Lee Wallace and Lee McCulloch committed to playing at Ibrox next season. Green has threatened any club signing these players that he will demand compensation through the courts.
Whatever the future holds for Rangers and Scottish football, this story has a long way to run.